A Guide to Prenatal Vitamins

Are all prenatal vitamins essential to avoiding malnutrition issues in your newborn? Health experts don’t always agree. In fact, neither do studies.

study conducted in Indonesia and published in the Lancet Global Health journal found that not taking prenatal multivitamins deters babies’ healthful development. However, the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin published research that suggests the opposite, concluding pregnancy vitamins are a waste of money. For most mothers, the answer occupies a grayer space.

To get answers, Metro Parent consulted Dr. Kimberly Moore, an OB-GYN with Providence Partners in Women’s Health in Southfield, who spoke to the role pregnancy vitamins play in prenatal care.

Get the facts

For starters, when it comes to those studies, look at the “research pool” for context. Customizable dietary plans are much more feasible for moms in more developed areas of the globe. For American moms who can afford to fortify their diets with leafy greens, red meats, milk and fruits – and who don’t suffer from a congenital vitamin deficiency – single supplements, such as folic acid, iron or vitamin D will do, Moore says.

That’s not always what advertising agencies for the medicine market would have soon-to-be moms believe. “It doesn’t really matter what prenatal vitamin you have,” Moore counters. “It doesn’t matter if it’s over-the-counter or if you get a prescription from a doctor. It doesn’t matter if it’s cheap or if you pay a whole lot of money. The main thing is, you have enough folic acid.”

Folic acid, folic acid, folic acid

Pregnant moms need 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, she says, more than they can intake from food. Why’s this vitamin so important? It prevents neural tube defects, which are defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord. The most common? Spina Bifida and anencephaly, she adds. Unfortunately, folic acid is most important during the first month of pregnancy. “Many times, patients don’t realize they’re pregnant until they’re further along, so the benefit of folic acid is not optimized.”

Other capsuled contenders

Other crucial vitamins include iron and vitamin D. In fact, 27 milligrams of iron are needed a day for “adequate red blood cell development. Red blood cells carry the oxygen to the baby and all his little organs.” Mothers who don’t eat much red meat, such as vegans and vegetarians, are more likely to require iron supplements during pregnancy, she says. Similarly, those who don’t drink much milk may require vitamin D supplements. All told, 200 IU of vitamin D are required a day, and most patients Moore sees are deficient. Babies not receiving enough vitamin D tap into mom’s reserves, which can cause “brittle bones in baby and osteoporosis in mom.”

No need to be picky

Must pregnancy vitamins be prescribed? No, Moore says. Most patients swing by the local pharmacy to pick up their own prenatal vitamins, she adds, which is a good idea that gets that folic acid in your body early while you await a visit with your physician. Gummies easier to swallow? No problem. Chewables are fortified with the same vitamins and can be less harsh on the stomach, she says. This can be a saving grace for moms with morning sickness, common during the first trimester when it’s crucial for moms to keep down their folic acid supplements.

Always consult your physician

Most mothers’ other vitamin needs can be met through simple dietary choices, Moore says. But to save money and your sanity, it’s always best to consult a physician. No two bodies are the same. It’s best to know yours. Even if you’re not trying, dietary counseling prior to pregnancy can be “beneficial to anyone of childbearing age.” It’s best to prep, she says. “Pregnancy weighs on your body. I tell people all the time, it’s only cute on TV.”

So eating right and knowing your vitamin deficiencies before you’re eating for two can only benefit mom and baby. Should you be vitamin deficient upon your pregnancy visit with the physician, then “extra supplements can always be added after your labs are drawn.”

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